The growth projections entrenched in the Plan differ little from business-as-usual
The Plan contains projections for each upper- and single-tier municipality in the Greater Golden Horseshoe. The Province and municipalities are to use these projections as the basis of land designation and investment decisions. Both the general public and the private sector will use these projections to justify the need for, or to oppose, particular developments before councils and the Ontario Municipal Board.
The Growth Outlook commissioned by the Province contains three scenarios, each of which allocates population and employment to municipalities in different proportions. According to the Growth Outlook, the "current trends" projections represent "the most likely distribution of growth based upon the current level of policy intervention, current and future settlement patterns, and the provision of necessary infrastructure to support growth." The "compact" and "more compact" scenarios are "policy-based forecasts [that] reflect greater levels of policy intervention required to achieve the objectives of the Places to Grow discussion paper released by the Province in the summer of 2004."17 The Province has chosen to build its Growth Plan on the "compact" scenario. But this scenario does not differ much from the "current trends" scenario. The "compact" scenario assumes no change in the distribution of population and employment growth between the Inner and Outer Rings relative to the "current trends" scenario, and, within the Inner Ring, it increases the City of Toronto's share of growth by only 80,000 people over 30 years, or 2.2% of projected growth in the Greater Golden Horseshoe.18
In principle, the Plan should encourage a distribution of growth among upper- and single-tier municipalities that maximizes opportunities for the achievement of the Plan's objectives. Both the scenario testing done as part of the Toronto-related Region Futures Study and work by Blais for Neptis and the Province on identifying opportunities for better use of infrastructure indicate that the Growth Plan's goals might be more easily achieved by shifting more growth to areas where efficient systems are well established and can be expanded and fortified. While some of this shift may be accomplishable within municipal plans, it would be best if the Province could set in place a region-wide growth distribution scenario that better faciliates and supports the Growth Plan's goals.
Moreover, future economic circumstances may shift growth in unexpected ways. Research for Neptis by housing economist Will Dunning indicates that economic factors influence people's choice of where to live. Over the lifetime of the Plan, higher house prices and lower job opportunities in the GTA may "deflect" people who would otherwise locate in the GTA to the Outer Ring and elsewhere. The result could be a quite different distribution of population growth, and a corresponding over-allotment of land for future urban expansion in the Inner Ring and under-allotment in the Outer Ring.
It would be advisable to test the effects of different growth distributions and infrastructure investments before projections are entrenched in the Plan.